This post has been standing over me for months, frowning in disappointment. I’m not sure why it has been so difficult to write. One possibility is my tendency to leave the final episode of beloved shows unwatched, so that they don’t end, and there need be no line drawn beneath them. Another is that, upon returning home, I lose the nirvana of writing without the competing forces of stress and tedium pressing me at every turn.
Of course, I can also be a lazy shit…so there’s that.
On our final day in Southampton, at HarBAR on 6th, we look out of floor-to-ceiling windows at the sun shining over the Solent, listening to stories of survival, wrapped in humour. I take a holiday from veganism to eat this monkfish (worth it), and still manage to feel fish-and-chip envy, despite having eaten a version almost every day of our holiday. I am inordinately fond of chips in small, metal baskets.
Soon, we find ourselves standing before the Bargate, in the city’s centre, listening for the sounds of centuries. Built in 1180, it has leonine sentries and phantom eyes peering out through its arrowslits.
Isn’t it magnificent?
Our next stop’s significance is a mystery. The Dolphin Hotel, the oldest in Southampton, dating back over 500 years, is now a Mercure Hotel, and its distinctive circular bay windows are two of Britain’s largest. We stand before it, with buses crossing by and breaking our view. The mystery? Jane Austen celebrated her eighteenth birthday behind this curtain-framed glass, and is said to have written Sense and Sensibility here. I have the feeling, once again, of being a single thread in a tapestry of ages.
I fight back tears as I try to take a picture with my iPhone in the spaces between buses.
We stop for a half-pint at The Red Lion. Significant events are said to have happened here, despite said events not being firmly supported by facts. I choose to believe I am drinking a half-pint in a pub that featured in Shakespeare’s Henry V, because, for me, stories are like facts in fancy dress. The narrow stairs lead us to a low-ceilinged bathroom clad in ancient wood, where I resist the urge to press my face against the walls. There is a pint poured daily in The Red Lion, for a long-departed patron. I decide, briefly, that it would be nice to be missed. Or, more accurately, it would be nice to be commemorated in a way that brings no sorrow to the missers (this – along with ‘missees’ – should be a word).
I snap a picture from a wonky landing upon high, and enjoy looking at it later.
Southampton was once surrounded by a stone wall, erected in response to French attack in the 1300s, and, while they have since fallen into ruin, it is possible to ‘walk the walls’. On the western esplanade, city workers eat sandwiches beneath a face-off between mediaeval brickwork and contemporary architecture. It is a Starbucks-in-a-tudor-building, multiplied by a thousand.
My mother will later tell me that we followed the footsteps of the once-daily walks of her past. This makes me wonder if we are threads, stitched neatly into a tapestry of time, or a mess of tangled, overlapping stories, with raw edges.
Here we are, four shadows, stretching across time.
This raw edge has been stitched into place.
The words make it so.